This post has been in the pipeline for a while. I had been thinking about compiling a list of philosophical songs from classic Hindi cinema, and blog reader Kamini Dey’s request for a post with that theme served to spur me on. I got distracted midway, and decided to do a cynical songs post, but here it is, finally: a list of ten philosophical songs from old Hindi cinema that I especially like.
One would’ve thought a blog dedicated largely to old Hindi cinema would milk Valentine’s Day for all it’s worth; after all, the number of old Hindi films that didn’t feature a romance of some sort, of some duration, can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. True, the romance may end in tragedy; it may come up against one obstacle or the other; there may be misunderstandings galore—but romance and Hindi cinema did go hand in hand (still do, to a large extent). So a Valentine’s Day-themed post is pretty much de rigueur.
This year, after having dilly-dallied and wondered whether I should try a ‘romantic songs’ list, I decided I should. And, oddly enough, all the romantic songs that kept occurring to me—the ones which immediately popped into my head and kept playing—were of Shammi Kapoor lip-synching to Rafi. Too easy. So I decided to go a different route: ten romantic duets (yes, there’s still a good bit of Shammi Kapoor here, but not completely).
The other day, looking at the stats page for this blog, I saw that somebody had arrived at Dustedoff as a result of searching for spring songs. I don’t know which post they ended up at, but it reminded me: spring is here in Delhi, and I’ve never yet done a post on songs about spring.
I suppose I should have dedicated this blog post to fellow blogger Anu Warrier, since the uncanny coincidences that dog our two respective lives and blogs seem straight out of a Hindi masala flick. There is also the fact that Anu and I got slightly acquainted with each other online years ago, then lost touch—until ‘meeting’ again on a film blog a couple of years ago, and realising that yes, this was the same person.
But no, this post is dedicated not to Anu, but to Sidharth Bhatia, whose delightful book Amar Akbar Anthony: Masala, Madness and Manmohan Desai, I’ve been reading. Here, by the way, is my review of Sidharth’s book—if you like Amar Akbar Anthony (and I, despite my love for 50s and 60s cinema, have to admit that I do, wholeheartedly), do get hold of Sidharth’s book. It’s a very satisfying read.
If the title of this post stumps you, let me explain.
Anybody who’s seen Hindi films (especially from the 1940s onward, when playback singing became widespread) knows that most actors and actresses onscreen weren’t singing for themselves. Occasionally, as in the case of artistes like Suraiya, KL Saigal, Noorjehan or Kishore Kumar, they did sing for themselves, but more often than not, the recording was done off-screen, and the actor lip-synched to the song onscreen. So we have all our favourite actors, warbling blithely (or not, as the case may be) in the voices of our greatest singers.
And just now and then, while the song may reach the heights of popularity, the person on whom it is filmed may be, to most people, a non-entity. Sidharth Bhatia, author of Cinema Modern: The Navketan Story (as well as a book on Amar Akbar Anthony, which I’m looking forward to reading) pointed this out to me the other day, with a couple of examples in support of his point. Jaan-pehchaan ho, and Tum apna ranj-o-gham. Sidharth made a request: would I compile a list of songs of this type? Famous songs, but lip-synched by not so famous faces?
So here it. And, Sidharth: thank you. This was challenging, and fun.
Some of you may know that I’ve recently returned from an exhilarating time at the Bangalore Literature Festival—one of the highlights (at least for a cinema fanatic like me!) of which was that I got to meet Nasreen Munni Kabir. (And was introduced to Farhan Akhtar, and met Sidharth Bhatia, and got to get photographed within the same frame as Gulzar… but that’s a different matter). Nasreen Munni Kabir and I actually shared a cab for the two-hour trip from the airport to the hotel, and spent most of it chatting about all things cinema. I told her about this blog, of course, and happened to mention that among the most popular posts seem to be song lists.
Which reminded me: it’s time for another list. And because this popped into my head while I was travelling, I decided to do another ‘sung in transit’ list. But because I’ve already done car songs (not to mention ghoda-gaadi songs and train songs), I’m going the water way this time: with boat songs. The criteria here (besides my usual ones, of the films being all pre-70s ones that I’ve seen) are:
(a) The singer(s) should be on the boat for at least three-fourths of the song’s duration
(b) All types of boats are allowed—shikaras, rafts, motorboats, ships, anything. Moving or not.
A couple of months back, blog reader Shalini alerted me to the fact that this year was Asha Bhonsle’s 80th birthday. Would I be doing a special post to mark the occasion? I hadn’t known that it was such a landmark birthday for Asha, but I couldn’t miss this opportunity, because—at the risk of being labeled an iconoclast and inviting censure (and possible debates?)—I have to admit that I tend to prefer Asha to her sister Lata.
Unfortunately, most people tend to associate Asha Bhonsle only with the sultry, ‘cabaret’ songs that she sang for umpteen songs picturised on vamps, all the way from Helen to Parveen Babi. Few remember that Asha’s was also the voice of the hauntingly beautiful Yehi woh jagah hai, or the bhajan Tora man darpan kehlaaye.
To compile a list of my ten favourite Asha Bhonsle songs would be impossible; there are far too many Asha songs that are simply out of this world as far as I’m concerned. So I decided to celebrate Asha’s birthday with this list: ten Asha solos, from pre-70s films, all in different moods. Not merely seductive, not merely cheerful or come-hither, but songs that are proof of Asha’s superb versatility. As always, these are from films I’ve seen.
Late last year, an editor from ForbesLife India wrote to me, telling me they’d be doing special ‘100 years of Indian cinema’ editions this year. Would I be interested in contributing an article? That was a no-brainer (or so it seemed), but when I got over my initial excitement and began to think, I realised that:
(a) I know virtually nothing about Indian cinema in general. Hindi cinema, yes; other Indian cinema, almost negligible.
(b) It was too vast a canvas. What would I write?
Much thought later, I offered to write about something I know something about: Hindi film music. What follows is a version of the article that appeared in the April-June 2013 issue of ForbesLife India. Do buy yourself a copy to read the final article—and to read some more interesting writing on a century of Indian cinema.
When I created a list of my favourite car songs, blog reader Ragni requested a list: of songs that feature women playing a piano. I riffled mentally through the film songs of the 50s and 60s, and quickly responded: there would be just too many; how could I choose just ten? Another reader, Chris, came up with a suggestion: songs only from black-and-white films.
When I actually got down to compiling this list, however, I realized how impetuous I’d been. A closer look at most of the piano songs that sprang to mind, and I discovered that even if it’s a woman singing (as in Tu jahaan-jahaan chalega or Mujhe tum mil gaye humdum), it’s a man sitting at the piano. Songs where a woman is the one actually playing the piano are, when I came to think of it, relatively rare. I had to, perforce, expand the scope to colour films too.
This post came about because of my recent review of Rangeen Raatein. Another film-lover, an American, noticed that post and said that she thought it was time she began branching out into watching Hindi cinema too (she’d already seen a good bit of Satyajit Ray’s work). She thought she’d begin with Rangeen Raatein. I was quick to dissuade her, of course—even I, die-hard Shammi Kapoor fan that I am, probably couldn’t stomach a rewatch of that film.
But it made me think: if I had to introduce a newcomer to Hindi cinema (or, more specifically, pre-70s Hindi cinema, since that’s what I love most), which films would I recommend? They would have to be films that are available with English subtitles, of course.
So here it is: my list. I do not claim that these are the best Hindi films of that era; by no means. They just happen to be ten of my favourites. These are in no particular order.